Teacher HACKS: Fast & Safe Teaching Tips and Strategies

Teacher HACKS: Fast & Safe Teaching Tips and Strategies
Zander Fields November 20, 2013

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Teachers these days have a tough job (was it ever easy??). So we reached out to dozens of teachers and asked them for their favorite “hacks” that help make their lives easier and their jobs more manageable. So what’s a hack? A hack is an actionable tip or suggestion that doesn’t fit the norm for time and resource management skills. What we’ve put together is a list of our favorite hacks that can instantly breathe new life into old routines that haven’t gotten the attention they might deserve. Without further ado, you can find our best hacks below!

Behavior management

Address the students who need more attention, and reward those who positively contribute.

  1. Stamps for behavior management: When the classroom gets too loud, go around to the students working quietly and give them a stamp. Is there any value to these stamps? That’s up to you!
  2. Managing the distracting students: Casually and indirectly approach the offender’s desk and do a couple subtle taps on their desk. Avoids confrontation and disruption of the lesson while still acknowledging the need for correction.
  3. Sneak management: When taking attendance, say out loud, “John is working, Mary is working” etc. so it seems like you’re grading them. In reality it’s just attendance, but what the students don’t know can help them get focused.
  4. Upset kindergarteners: When one of your little ones ends up tearful, try to model calmness and demonstrate a lack of overt fear/concern about their predicament. Kids will take cues about incident context from their teacher.
  5. Dealing with disruptive students: When you have a disruptive student, put 3 small post-its on the white board, and each time you need to correct him/her, pull one off the board. Once they’re gone, a consequence is delivered. Reset them every day for continued effectiveness.
  6. Pizza points: Students earn a point at the end of the lesson if everyone was on task and giving the activities an earnest effort. If someone was acting up then the whole class would be in danger of losing their point. Once the class earns their prerequisite amount of points then allow them to bring money in and take a walk to the local store for lunch, or order takeout. Potential bonus: Free lunch!
  7. Clever desk cleaning: Around 3 period or later, if you notice a desk is dirty or has graffiti, tell the incoming student that the student that was there prior was sick and sneezing a lot. Offer them some cleaning supplies to “prevent him/her from getting sick too” as an ingenious way to get the desk cleaned. Students are so appreciative for the “heads up”!
  8. ClassDojo: Tool that monitors behavior and attendance. Learn which techniques to provide to which students based on behavior and performance.

Attendance/time management

Making sure time is on your side, around the clock.

  1. High school Spanish: Take attendance using a ball. Requires the students to be fluent in phrases like “John is here” and “Mary isn’t here.”
  2. Name tags: At the beginning of the year, students put their first name and last initial on one side of the name tag, and 4 answers to questions on the other side. When it comes time to assign seats, you can drop the name tags on random desks.
  3. Better class time structure: Start class with the same routine. Copy the objective and homework into your planner. Have them leave it open so you can come around and stamp it.
  4. Keeping students on task during attendance: Bell ringer! Ring the bell when students should begin to answer/respond to a question on the board. Response shouldn’t take longer than 5 minutes, and can act as a review.
  5. Weekly review: Once a week, sit down with your planner and timetable and write up what you’re teaching for the next school week. Make notes of anything you’ll need to photocopy, websites you need unblocked, etc. The process should take about an hour, and can offer a host of benefits!


Keeping your classwork, homework, and work-work on track and in the right place.

  1. Grading classwork: Require students to complete all work within a designated notebook, and grade it once every 2 weeks or so. Save time by passing on the need to grade more frequently, and having all the work in one place!
  2. Grading English/LA papers: Don’t grade holistically. Look for only one or two specific aspects of your classroom’s focus (topic sentence, coherence, parenthetical citation, etc.).
  3. Grading English/LA papers 2: Length of paper doesn’t always equate to rigor. Sometimes a short and direct essay can have more effect. And save you time on reading them as well!
  4. Stickers for good test grades: Put stickers on tests that get 95% or better. You’d be surprised how well the little things work!
  5. Multiple choice exams: Provide a separate answer sheet so students don’t spend precious time flipping through their test.
  6. Completion grade: Feeling overwhelmed with miles-high stacks of paperwork waiting to be graded? Take a completion grade!
  7. Student “mailboxes”: Provide hanging folders with the student’s name on it for returning work, especially quizzes and tests.
  8. Supplies location: At the beginning of the year, teach the students where the supplies are. This is especially helpful for science and art classes that require a lot of supplies to be on hand.
  9. Assignment numbers: Every student is assigned a number that they are required to write in one corner of any work they turn in. Allows for quicker alphabetizing. If they forget, -5 points (or whatever you choose) for not following directions.

Classroom tips

Bright ideas for improving the quality of your work, in and out of the classroom.

  1. Maintaining desk order: Zip-tie desks together in the order you prefer so students don’t accidentally adjust the arrangement!
  2. End of day cleaning game: “First table to get the floor around their desks clean gets a piece of candy”.
  3. Wiimote whiteboard: Use a wiimote and wiiboard to easily hack a dynamic projected whiteboard!
  4. Classroom organization and supply Management: Students’ desked are organized into groups of 7 desks. 6 Students and 1 supply desk. Supplies as well as helpful books (think thesaurus, dictionary) can be kept in the 7th desk.
  5. Economical bulletin board backgrounds: Cheap plastic table cloths!
  6. QR codes: Put up a QR code at PTA meetings and open houses so parents can get all of your contact info on their phones.
  7. QR codes 2: QR code sticker given to each parent and student that links them directly to your online grades page.

Sanitation Maintenance

Keep your classroom clean with the following clever sanitation hacks:

  1. Protect seating: Use large, stretchable book covers as seat covers to reduce contact with clothing or skin. This or a similar material is easy to clean and waterproof.
  2. Create assigned seating: Keep track of each student and their belongings by using assigned seating, particularly if your class changes rooms multiple times a day.
  3. Ask students to bring toys from home: When it comes to recreation or playtime, keeping toys or books separate is nearly impossible. Encourage students (and parents) to bring toys from home or designate certain toys for school to be kept in a locker or cubby.
  4. Eat outside if possible: No one can safely eat while wearing a mask which makes lunchtime a little chaotic for teachers and staff aides. If possible, stagger the time of day each class attends lunch and vary the location using outdoor tables or desks.

Social Distancing Strategies in the Classroom

Ensure students maintain a safe distance from others and can exit or enter the classroom without compromising health guidelines or quality education.

  1. Create visible boundaries: Retailers have seen much success with the use of one-way lanes, but this can be more difficult to achieve in a classroom setting. Use brightly colored masking or washi tape on the floor to provide direction on where students can walk.
  2. Send assignments and grades via email: Reduce or eliminate the need to pass out paper (or take assignments home to grade) by digitizing homework submission and grading.
  3. Make distancing fun: When students enter or exit the classroom, allow one person to go to their seat at a time, but make it fun. Sing Happy Birthday or a similar song with short breaks in the chorus while one student per stanza navigates to their seat.
  4. Create student hubs: Position desks in small groups to allow for 6 ft. of distance between each chair to make a U-shape. At the open space of the “U,” place a plastic storage bin with drawers. Assign one drawer per student to eliminate the need to walk around the room and keep individual items organized.

Limit Material Sharing

Establish quick and easy storage solutions to organize and manage classroom materials.

  1. Install at-desk storage: Depending on the type of materials used, a small pencil box or create positioned or affixed to a student’s seating area makes it simple to keep all materials in one place.
  2. Encourage digital participation: Use technology in the classroom that engages students, such as a virtual whiteboard they can edit from a desktop device, to enhance learning without sharing tangible materials.
  3. Keep a backup supply of materials: While it makes sense for students to bring their own materials, you’ll need backups that can be loaned throughout the day. Create a digital sign out sheet and disinfect materials between use for at least 30 seconds with hand sanitizer
  4. Add an eraser to dry erase markers: Cut a foam hair roller, commonly available in inexpensive sets, to about 1.5 inches, and attach to the end of a dry erase marker to prevent the need to share erasers.
  5. Hand out paint or glue in small portions: Use recycled containers or paper cups to pass out liquid materials and avoid the need for multiple hands touching glue or paint bottles.
  6. Use clipboards as personal workstations: Sometimes it’s not possible to consistently change or assign desks. If this is the case, use portable clipboards, one assigned for each student, with an attached writing instrument that can be reused by the assigned student daily.

User-provided hacks

  1. Have an easy and engaging “do now” problem or writing prompt for when students enter the room. Do it each class so that as soon as students enter the room, the thinking begins. It also deals with the trickling in of students at various times. You enter my room, you are learning! – Arvind Grover
  2. Actually have your students engage in meaningful learning activity that is challenging, yet allows them to have choice and be passionate about how the demonstrate learning. – Stephen Ransom

We hope you’ve enjoyed all of the tips we’ve had the pleasure of finding and using, and hopefully some of these can be put to good use in your classroom today! We’ll be updating this article periodically as new hacks come in, so check back weekly to see what readers have shared!

We’d love to hear from YOU on any great “hacks” you’ve discovered in the classroom, so please send an email to info[at]resilienteducator.com.

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